THE SANDWICH GENERATION
“You stole my food! I’m hungry!”
“No. I didn’t, grandma!”
"Yes, you stole my food!”
“No, grandma, I would never steal your food!”
“Yes, You did!”
This conversation escalated to screams and tears.
The elder and the young 10-year-old boy were two slices of the “traditional” sandwich generation. The “meat” of the sandwich -- the adult child of the elder and mother of the young boy --- was unable to stop the flow of emotions. Until...
The mother told me this story.
“I sat down with my son and explained what Alzheimer’s is and what it does to the brain. That his grandmother grew up during WWII and was often hungry. That his grandmother’s brain was sick and she did not know what she was saying.”
She continued, “The next time my mother accused my son of stealing her food, my son very gently took her hand and took her into the kitchen. He opened the door of the refrigerator and said 'Look grandma. See all this food. You will not be hungry.'”
What is important is that the young boy by his actions acknowledged and addressed the elder’s fear. The actions of this 10-year-old quickly defused a potentially emotional disaster.
In another case, the daughter and son of a woman in her late 80s lived near Denver. The mother lived in San Antonio, Texas. The son and daughter-in-law did not like where the elder lived and wanted to move her to Denver. Twice the elder agreed -- in the beginning. One time she refused to pack. But the second time everything was packed. At the last minute, the elder refused to get on the plane. The family did not know what to do.
The elder adored her teen-age granddaughter. At my suggestion, the granddaughter took the reins.
“Grandma, I wish you lived near us. I wish you could come to the ball games to see me cheerleading. And you can have dinner with us all the time.” The elder happily moved and repeatedly told her son, daughter-in-law (who took over the primary oversight role) and granddaughter how happy she was to live near them.
In this situation, again the grandchild addressed the elder’s concern -- of moving to a strange place and not knowing anyone. The granddaughter had assured her grandmother that the family would be there with and for her. That the elder would not be alone.
The elder passed away earlier this year. The family thanked me for my initial advice.
Grandchildren can be great helpers in elder care scenes by just being themselves.
What is the Sandwich Generation?
Being a sandwich generationer is, what I call, a new role on the stage of life for which no one can ever rehearse. The challenges are enormous and no two relationships are the same. There is no magic wand.
There are basically three kinds of “sandwich” in relation to elder caregiving.
The traditional sandwich involves an elder, an adult child of the elder and grandchild(ren). The “club sandwich” involves the elder, the adult child of the elder, the grandchild of the elder (who is the primary caregiver) and great grandchildren. The “open faced” sandwich involves anyone else involved in elder care.
In traditional sandwich generation situations, the children (that lower slice of bread) are often neglected. The ‘meat” caregiver is so involved in doing chores and handling the elder’s finances that the grandchildren are often forgotten. School grades slip. Fights ensue. Teens often get into drugs and alcohol.